“And when you fast, don’t make it obvious, as the hypocrites do, for they try to look miserable and disheveled so people will admire them for their fasting. I tell you the truth, that is the only reward they will ever get. But when you fast, comb your hair and wash your face. Then no one will notice that you are fasting, except your Father, who knows what you do in private. And your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.” – Matthew 6:16–18.
Many people view fasting as a negative. Perhaps the reason so many of us fast so infrequently is because we think of fasting mainly as what we’re giving up rather than what we’re getting. It is understandable because fasting is viewed as abstaining, going without food or drink, or something else that is a part of our lives. But Christian fasting is more than simply abstaining. The goal of Christian fasting, in fact, is not going without but getting. Christian fasting is abstaining for the sake of some specific Christian purpose.
Jesus did not waffle as to whether His church would fast. “When you fast,” he said — not “if” (Matthew 6:16–17). “…they will fast.” (Matthew 9:15). And so the early church fasted: “One day as these men were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Appoint Barnabas and Saul for the special work to which I have called them.”
The spiritual purpose in fasting includes strengthening prayer. Ezra 8:23 says, “So we fasted and earnestly prayed that our God would take care of us, and he heard our prayer.” Or seeking God’s guidance: “Paul and Barnabas also appointed elders in every church. With prayer and fasting, they turned the elders over to the care of the Lord, in whom they had put their trust.” (Acts 14:23) Or seeking His deliverance or protection: “Jehoshaphat was terrified by this news and begged the Lord for guidance. He also ordered everyone in Judah to begin fasting. So people from all the towns of Judah came to Jerusalem to seek the Lord’s help.” (2 Chronicles 20:3–4) Or humbling ourselves before Him. Psalm 35:13 says, “Yet when they were ill, I grieved for them. I denied myself by fasting for them, but my prayers returned unanswered.” There are others but the bottom line is that without a spiritual purpose, it’s not Christian fasting. It’s just going hungry.
Fasting is a kind of special measure in the life of faith. Fasting is a special mode, for unusual prayer and for showing the Giver we enjoy Him more than His gifts.
- Do you believe that is it important for every believer to practice the spiritual discipline of fasting? Why or why not?
- Share about a time you fasted and prayed. What did God reveal to you during that time? What might you do differently when you fast again?